The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Tuesday that is awaiting further confirmation about reports of China’s “fresh violation” in the contested West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
“We are awaiting further confirmation. Jointly with DND [Department of National Defense], we are committed to look at ways to appropriately address this issue,” Raul Hernandez, Foreign Affairs spokesman, said.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Tuesday showed a map of the disputed Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal where three Chinese coast guard vessels were sighted, as well as concrete blocks, which are prelude to construction.
Such activities were monitored by the military on August 31 as taking place in the area where a two-month naval standoff between the Philippines and China ensued last year.
The photographs, according to Gazmin, have already been sent to the Foreign Affairs department and to the Office of the President.
Lawmakers were wary that this could be a repeat of what happened at the Panganiban Reef in 1994 when the Chinese constructed facilities there after Philippine military left the area because of the monsoon season. Since then, Beijing has controlled the reef, which is located within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Control, experts said, is the primary basis of any territorial claim.
Tensions in the resource-rich region have always been present, but it wasn’t until April of last year when intense diplomatic spats were traded between the two governments amid the naval rubble in Scarborough Shoal.
An agreement was reached for both countries to leave the shoal, but it was only Filipino-manned vessels who adhered to that agreement. Chinese vessels stayed and are reportedly now in the process of constructing facilities.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd was supposed to attend a regional trade event between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in the province of Nanning in China today, but arrangements for his trip were never finalized.
Hernandez said on Monday that this was because of certain “conditions” required by the Chinese government.
A source in the department revealed this was for Manila to withdraw its arbitration case against China pending before a United Nations-backed court, and for Filipino troops to leave the Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.
The Philippines filed the arbitral case against Beijing in the hopes the tribunal can invalidate the country’s nine-dash line claim, which has been the basis of its sweeping territorial claims in the commercially vital sea route. BERNICE CAMILLE V. BAUZON